Saturday, May 26, 2012

Reality TV - for Writers?

Singers. Dancers. Chefs. Fat guys. Funny guys. Guys who play the harmonica while juggling tangerines. Everybody's got their own reality show.

Everybody except writers. And I say it's high time we correct this situation. 

The standard format for a talent competition should work nicely. Contestants stand up and blah blah. Three judges make snarky comments. And the masses vote, paring down the contestants until we get to this season's Literary Legend.

Let's preview the pilot show, now airing live. . . .

[Cue theme music. Thunderous applause as affable host enters, wearing a tweed jacket and puffing on a pipe. You can tell by looking that his name is Allistair. Or Digory.]

Allistair.   Or Digory.

Host: Good evening, America. THIS. . .is Literary Legend.  Let's welcome our judges. . . .Jim-Bob Boomer, author of several viral tweets about his brother-in-law's moustache; Perky Petula, author of Financial Advice for Writers: Marry Money; and Cool Dog Cool, author of more than a dozen software user agreements in English, French, and Portuguese.
At last! A show for writers like me!

And here's our first contestant, performing a Shakespearean sonnet. Our design consultant has dressed her in jeans and a grubby tee shirt with a mustard stain. She reeks of literary. Also of mustard.

Contestant #1:

When you, my love, are gone, the stars dissolve--
the sky unravels slowly at the seams. . . .

[Fans in the front rows sway their arms as she continues.]

Host: Okay Judges, what think ye?

Judge #1: "Pitchy."

Judge #2: "I think it's the wrong poem for this point in the competition. And did I hear an anacrusis in that closing couplet?"

Host: Ana-who-sis?

Judge #3: I'm not a big fan of the genre, but Girl, you nailed those slant rhymes. And when you got to the enjambment, I saw God.

Contestant #2
Host: And now, Contestant #2, sporting a sou'wester and performing free verse.

Contestant #2: Hey, it's not free. I expect to get paid. 

Host: Just read already.

Contestant #2: 

Pain. Death. Destruction. All that misery just ooz-
ing like hot fudge from a sundae 
left out in the 
rain rain rain rain. . . . 

[Contestant #2 runs across the stage, slapping hands with audience members on the front row.]

Host: Okay, Judges?

Judge #1: "That was dope. He's in it to win it."

Judge #2: "Loved the leitmotif and the pathetic fallacy.Your synecdoche and metonymy are to die for."

Contestant #2: Aw, shucks.

Judge #3: "Wow, I'm suddenly hungry for ice cream."

Host: Thank you, Judges. And now, Contestant #3, dressed in retro mobster attire, performing creative nonfiction on the always scintillating subject of capitalism.

Contestant #3
Contestant #3: Money. You got it--I want it. In fact, I hope you vote for me and make me rich and famous. Especially rich. I don't write so great, but I have an agent. [Pulls out machine gun.]  And a marketing plan. Vote for me. NOW.

Host (hiding behind a pillar): That's a prop, right? Let's ask our judges what they think. . .

Judge #1: Pitchy.

[In a spray of gunfire, Contestant #3 annihilates Judge #1.]

Host: Note to self: not a prop.

Judge #2: "Best performance ever. Really. . . .Really, really.

Judge #3: Huh? Sorry, dozed off. Did I miss anything?

[Contestant #3 shoots Judge #3.]

Host: Okay, America, it's up to you--and our one remaining judge. Who is your Literary Legend? Vote for your favorite by phone or on Facebook or publish your vote in an obscure literary journal. And remember that however you vote, I still get paid.

[Contestant #3 shoots affable host. A free for all ensues.]

Contestant #3: Goodnight Allistair. Or Digory. Goodnight, America. And don't forget to vote for me. NOW.

A free for all ensues.

[Cue theme and fade.]

Okay, so admittedly, there are a few wrinkles to iron out--um, metaphorically speaking--but you've got to admit, it's got a certain appeal for both the literati and the prison-without-parole demographic.

And now, please excuse me. I want to ask Contestant #3 if he will accompany me to the contract negotiations for my next book.  

Your Top Six Guy Writers for Season One

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The End Is Near--Save the Books!

Forget toilet paper, duct tape, and beef jerky.

The apocalypse is coming. You need to stock up now. . .on books! And possibly a few shelves from IKEA for storage. Or maybe a lot of shelves. Hey, it's your future.

I figure that when the aliens spray us all with stupid-gas, we'll need to have some sense and sanity preserved in the pages of print books. (Kindle doesn't count. The aliens can scramble the signal.)

The end is near, my friends. The Stark Raving Mythopath recommends that you keep the following books where you can get at them at all times.

Emily Dickinson
After the Media Meltdown, in a world gone gray and non-specific,  you’ll need poetry to bring back the colors, images, and beauty. Poetry will restore the meaning in the mundane, the exotic richness of the commonplace. Keep some William Wordsworth, John Donne, Maya Angelou, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Emily Dickinson at arm's length.  In the Day of Darkness, you may need "a certain slant of light" to help you find your way.

When dust storms of fuzzy thinking assail, take shelter in collections of essays by J. B. Priestley, Lewis Thomas, Carl Sagan, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Dorothy Sayers, Douglas A. Hofstader. . . . And here’s the beauty of it. You can disagree! Judges on reality shows may tell you how to think, but good essayists invite you to enter into a dialogue with them. They want you to think—for yourself! I know. It's crazy. 

Ah, but when the killer bees of information overload attack--quick--through the wormhole (or rabbit hole) into a fantasy world where you can forget the facts and find the truth! A Wrinkle in Time. The Great Divorce. Lord of the Rings. Alice in Wonderland. The Book of the Dun Cow. It’s not escapism. It’s a way of getting to the very heart of what's real. (I love you, Charles Wallace!)

Earth falling into the sun? Overcome by a sudden surge of too much gravity? The only antidote is levity. You'll need humor by Mark Twain, Dave Barry, Garrison Keillor, Andy Rooney, and Erma Bombeck. This is no laughing matter. It's survival of the funniest.  

When the Video Vampires drink your dreams because you're not young, beautiful, and computer-savvy, turn off their tapioca transmissions and read novels. Peace Like a River, The Brothers Karamozov, The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency. Frederick Buechner's Godric. You can live thousands  of lives and gain wisdom in each one. When it comes to heroes, one size doesn't fit all, and your size is just right.

And don’t forget the children’s picture books! Babar and His Children. The Velveteen Rabbit. Where the Wild Things Are. Owl Moon. Madeleine. Anansi the Spider. The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde. . . . Feast on simplicity and pure delight. We didn't "grow out" of childhood--we were banished. And we need to get back before the Shadow Government condemns us to eternal adulthood. Yuck.

Feel free to make substitutions within these categories, but do stockpile the good stuff. How else will you feed your soul in the Day of Doom and Dimwittedness?

You may mock now, but when the aliens/zombies/major networks come to suck out your brains, you need to be prepared.

And don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Best Moms of Mythology

Oscars? Lame. Grammies? Who needs 'em! We’re here at the annual Best Moms of Mythology Awards--the B-MOM's--waiting  for the first blingy stilletos to hit the red carpet.

I guess we’ll have to wait a little longer, because here comes Echidna, mother of all monsters in Greek mythology—and she prefers to go. . .barefoot. Is that Valentino or Lauren she’s wearing? Seriously, that off-the-shoulder  gown does nothing to hide her figure flaws. Sure, from the waist up, she’s a knock-out--but from the waist down, she's a writhing serpent. Some of Echidna’s charming children include the Hydra (a many headed sea serpent), Cerberus (a three-headed dog that stands guard at the gate of the underworld), the Chimera (a fire-breathing lion-snake-goat combo), the Caucasian Eagle (a bird that feasted on Prometheus’s liver), and Medusa, the lady with snakes for hair.

And now, a vision in burlap! Feast your eyes on the Corn Mother of Native Amercian lore. The Corn Mother was a beautiful maiden who married her true love. After a long, hard winter, her tribe was facing certain starvation. The young squaw told her husband, "There is only one way to save our people. You must kill me and scatter my body over the ground." The man could not, would not believe her plea. But at last, in utter desperation, he did as she had asked. From the earth sprang a new crop of corn and the tribe was saved. And not long after, corn fritters were invented. So next time you eat a corn dog, you can remember Corn Mother. Or not.

Here’s another interesting design choice. Haumea, a  Hawaian goddess, is wearing a retro muu-muu from Dior? Gucci? No! Judging by certain stylistic elements and the tag hanging from her sleeve, I'd say the Hawaian collection from Walmart. She is the mother of Pele, Kapo, and a bunch of kids with 15-syllable names. The Corn Mother gave the gift of corn, and what did Haumea give us? Childbirth. I kid you not. She is said to have invented the method that we think of as natural childbirth--the kind where you pray for drugs and some wiseacre keeps saying, "Push, push, push." Put down those rocks, Ladies! Before you stone Haumea, bear in mind that according to legend, all births before this were done by C-section. 

Now that’s what I call a stretch limo! The driver is opening the door, and here she is, the mother of Heimdallr, from Norse mythology. The driver is opening another door, and out steps—déjà vu—the mother of Heimdallr. He’s opening a third door. . .and out steps. . .can anybody guess? Yes, these are the Nine Mothers of Heimdallr, nine sisters who somehow collaborated to give birth to one son. A regular kid might expect to forget about his homework or feed his veggies to the dog now and then. With 18 eyes watching him and nine moms nagging him, poor Heimdallr didn't stand a chance.

Hold everything. Now that is one classy chariot. And here comes Isis, worshipped in ancient Egypt as the ideal wife and mother. That dress is a wardrobe malfunction just waiting to happen. The paparazzi went crazy when this nonconformist celebrity married her brother Osirus and gave birth to Horus, the god of war. That iconic headdress is a whopper. It’s shaped like a throne, and I guess that works, since she is also considered to be the mother of the pharaoh.

Who will win the award tonight? Who will be the Best Mom in Mythology? All the B-MOM nominees are impressive. But I'm rooting for Echidna. Mostly because, if she loses, her kids may wreak havoc on the theater and the audience and the planet. 

Oh never mind. Chuck Norris' mom just pulled up on her Harley. I think we're safe! 

Happy Mother's Day from the Stark Raving Mythopath!

B-MOM Awards for 2014, click here! 
B-MOM's for 2018, click here!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Extraordinary Ordinary

Dear Dr. Lamaze:  Do I smell smoke? Are your khakis on fire? Cause Doc, you lied!

It wasn't "discomfort" I felt during childbirth. It was pain. And nothing else went quite like those classes promised either. 

At the hospital, my husband got held up with paperwork at the front desk and didn't join me for the longest time. By then, I had already made the choice to abandon natural childbirth and try the epidural. I didn't care if they went to the streets to get drugs--I only knew I wanted some. 

The young doctor on call had only been practicing for five days. Five. It had taken me nine months to assemble this baby from spare parts, and they send me Doogie Howser and his affable sidekick, Nurse Rachett. I don't remember using any of the stuff in my carefully packed goodie bag. Nothing was going according to plan, and I  couldn't help but feel that I was doing everything wrong, wrong, wrong.

"It's a boy," Doogie announced, the words floating somewhere above me. Nothing was quite real. And then. . .afterbirth? They had to be kidding. I thought I was done.

Suddenly, a cry pierced the fog. A baby was crying nearby.  Small wonder. We were in the maternity wing, after all. Hold the phone. That was MY baby. After nine months of big belly and clueless classes and waiting and wondering, my baby was crying. My son. 

That cry was the most amazing music I ever heard. It changed my life forever.

Hal Holbrook as the Stage Manager
in Our Town
I'll always remember that day, but so many other amazing days slip by unnoticed, unappreciated.

Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town is about the extraordinary meaning and value of everyday life. In Act III, Emily Webb Gibbs, who had recently died in childbirth, is given the chance to return to her life in Grover’s Corners for just one day, her twelfth birthday.  

Emily watches in wonder as her mother makes breakfast and lays out the presents. Her mother looks so young. Everything is so lovely, but it's all happening too fast. She begs her mother to slow down, but her mother-of-the-past can't hear her.

George and Emily courting

When it’s time to leave, Emily says, “Good-bye to clocks ticking....and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths....and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every, every minute?"

All it takes is a high school reunion to make you realize that each ordinary day is an extraordinary gift. At every reunion, there comes a time when we pause to remember classmates who have died. Some of these friends died in their twenties, some in their forties, some just at retirement time. And this moment of reflection is also a reminder that there will come a day when they’ll be reading my name on this list.

We don’t pause often enough to drink in the blue of the sky, to breathe in the perfume of woodsmoke and sweet coffee and bacon and honeysuckle. To delight in the great dance of hearts beating, seasons changing, stars circling above. To savor the amazing possibilities of each new morning, the healing rest of each night.

Writing down the stories of our lives can sometimes help us to “realize life” more fully than we do while we’re actually living it. As Emily says in Our Town, “It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another.”

We record the memories for those who come after, so that they may catch a glimpse into our lives and get to know us. But we also record them for ourselves. To ponder the mystery of the days we live on this island in time, afloat on an ocean of eternity. To puzzle out the meaning of our experience. To revel anew in the joy of a first kiss, the birth of a child. To feel again the sting of a final farewell. 

Not so we can live in the past, but to celebrate the good, to forgive the bad, to make our peace, and to move on to the next adventure, in this world and beyond.

ASSIGNMENT: Did you think of a theme song for each decade of your life? For my childhood, I chose the 50's novelty song "Purple People Eater." You know: "It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater...." Why? Because I was a really creative child who spent a lot of time in Outer Space, writing stories about visiting other planets with my friends. What song did you choose for your childhood years?